Intentional parenting is of the most important ideas behind the Ezzo parenting philosophies. It requires that we think about where we want to go with our children and what we want them to be like in two, 12 or even 20 years. We spend the time now to think about what moral values we want to instill in our children and how we might do so. We think about what behaviors or attitudes we don’t want to see in our children and be mindful of them in our daily parenting.
“Some parents simply exist. They have no direction, no goals, no plan other than what is pressing at the moment… Not only do they not know where they are going in their parenting, they’re usually not aware that they need to be headed someplace,” (On Becoming Toddlerwise, p. 89).
Set your goals
Start by sitting down with your spouse with a pen and paper in hand. Talk it over and write down your goals. They could be moral values like respecting adults or more mundane ideas like staying in bed in the morning until you allow him to get up. I have a big white board in our kitchen where I have listed our house rules and the moral lessons I want my kids to learn. (I also have a few reminder notes for myself, like “don’t repeat yourself”.) I can erase and rearrange these goals as I see fit.
Decide how you will achieve your goals
Once you have your goals in mind, you can figure out how to get there. Say for example that you want your child to sit quietly in restaurants when you go out to eat. That is your goal. Then you think through what it takes for a child to be able to do so. You practice good manners at home and when visiting friends. You decide that they will need to stay in the highchair the entire time. You teach them to speak quietly, not throw their food, not be crawling all over the restaurant, etc. Ultimately, in order to achieve your goals, your child will need to learn to obey you and submit to your authority. (See “Yes, mommy” and Eye contact.)
Be aware of any actions that lead you away from your important goals. Even taking the child out of the highchair just once could lead you down the wrong path, away from your goal. There is a quote from Secrets of the Baby Whisperer (a wonderful complement to Babywise) that says, “Start as you mean to go on.” If you decide that you want your child to sleep in his or her own bed, you wouldn’t start by co-sleeping. You may choose to have a bassinet near your bed for those early weeks, but you will still be mindful of your goal and move him to the crib as soon as you both are ready.
To achieve your goals, you must establish your parental authority and teach your child to submit and obey you.
“Let us assure you: Parental authority is not a bad thing. Quite the contrary. It is absolutely necessary in order to maintain the balance between personal freedom, responsibility and obligation. Parental authority represents the right of parents to insist upon conformity and compliance, especially in these three vital areas of life: morality, health and safety, and life skills,” (On Becoming Childwise, p. 48).
It is only by teaching submission that we can achieve our goals. If you want to teach your child to share and ask him to give a toy to his sibling, it is only if he is submissive to you that he will do this. Otherwise, his me-ism (selfishness) takes over and he has no reason to hand over the toy. Submission is needed everywhere we go in life.
Avoid the opposite viewpoint: reactive parenting
When you don’t set goals for your children or for yourself as a parent, you find yourself in reactive parenting mode. Your existence as a parent is reacting to what your child says and does rather than guiding and proactively directing his behavior. This idea is also discussed in Secrets of the Baby Whisperer with the term “accidental parenting”. By not starting as you mean to go on, you end up parenting from the hip and find yourself with kids who you cannot control and who you don’t enjoy.
“For some theorists, parenting is a matter of facilitating a child’s natural and impulsive way, rather than actively directing the child’s ability to make right decisions benefiting others. Reactive in nature, this nondirective approach seeks to manipulate a child’s environment in hopes of making parental supervision non-adversarial. Yet, leadership by nature requires that you make decisions based on what is best and right, not what is perceived as most pleasing in the moment,” (On Becoming Toddlerwise, p. 92).
Our parenting objective should be to teach our children our values and appropriate behaviors whether that makes them happy in the moment or not. (See holiness vs. happiness.) We should teach our children how to operate in this world as it exists rather than change the world to suit their needs. For example, we teach our children how to behave in the grocery store rather than avoiding taking them to the store. We teach our children how to behave with babysitters rather than not going on dates with our spouse. We teach our children to respond to the call of their name rather than allowing them to ignore us.
If you are an accidental or reactive parent, start with the simple step of thinking through your goals. Even a list of your top five goals is enough to start. Then be mindful of these goals in your daily parenting. If five goals is too much to focus on, start with just one. Write it down in a conspicuous place and consistently follow through on it for a week or until your child seems to get it. Then move on to your other goals.
Parenting with intent might require a big shift in your mindset, but again, with practice it will become easier. Do this work now, before your child has already established bad habits, and you will soon enjoy the benefits.